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The facts on trans fats

The government is banning them from our food. Here’s what it means for your health
A dozen donuts frying in hot oil

The federal government has announced legislation to eliminate industrially produced trans fats from all foods sold in Canada. How will this affect our food supply and our health? Heart & Stroke registered dietitian Carol Dombrow provides some answers.

What are trans fats and where are they found?

Trans fats are a type of fat found in some foods. Artificial trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to a liquid vegetable oil to make it more solid. 

Trans fats can be found in commercially baked and fried foods made with vegetable shortening, such as fries and donuts. It’s also in hard stick margarine and shortening and some snack and convenience foods. When you see “partially hydrogenated oils” on the label of a processed food, that means it contains trans fats. 

Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats can be found in some foods such as dairy products, beef and lamb, and some oils.

How do they affect our health?

Trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease. They increase your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and decrease “good” cholesterol (HDL), fostering the buildup of fatty deposits that can clog your blood vessels and lead to heart attack.

Why is a ban necessary?

The food industry was given several years to voluntarily remove trans fats from products. Although levels have decreased, many foods still contain trans fats. Certain categories of foods such as baked goods, dairy-free cheeses, frosting, coffee whiteners, lard or shortening, cookies, biscuits, scones and refrigerated doughs do not meet the voluntary targets for trans fats. Some of these foods are consumed more often by children and other vulnerable populations. 
Only a ban will ensure that all industrially produced trans fats are effectively removed from the Canadian food supply.  

What does a healthy diet look like now?

  This new measure does not alter the basic advice on eating well. A healthy, balanced diet includes: 

  • more vegetables and fruit
  • a variety of protein sources (beans and legumes, lower fat dairy and alternatives, and lean meat, poultry and fish)
  • consuming more plant-based foods
  • limiting processed foods 
  • avoiding sugary beverages. 

It requires preparing foods at home as often as possible and watching portion sizes. 

How does Heart & Stroke view the ban on trans fats?

Heart & Stroke sees this as a great move that will reduce the number of heart attacks in Canada and save lives. In fact Heart & Stroke played a key role in driving this change over more than 12 years, starting as co-chair of a federal trans fats task force established in 2006 that recommended eliminating industrially produced trans fats.

The change is part of the federal government’s Healthy Eating Strategy, which is aimed at helping to make the healthier choice the easier choice for Canadians. Heart & Stroke strongly supports the strategy, which includes revisions to Canada’s Food Guide, stopping the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, and improving food labelling.